Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

represented nothing so much as the clangour of a trumpet ? The representative power of poetick harmony consists of sound and measure; of the force of the syllables singly considered, and of the time in which they are pronounced. Sound can resemble nothing but sound, and time can measure nothing but motion and duration.

The criticks, however, have struck out other similitudes; nor is there any irregularity of numbers which credulous admiration cannot discover to be eminently beautiful. Thus the propriety of each of these lines has been celebrated by writers whose opinion the world has reason to regard :

Vertitur interea cælum, & ruit oceano nox.
Meantime the rapid heav'ns rowld down the light,
And on the shaded ocean rush'd the night. DRYDEN.

Sternitur, exánimisque tremens procumbit humi bos.-
Down drops the beast, nor needs a second wound;
But sprawls in pangs of death, and spurns the ground.

DRYDEN.

Parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus.
The mountains labour, and a mouse is born.

RoscoMMON.

If all these observations are just, there must be some remarkable conformity between the sudden succession of night to day, the fall of an ox under a blow, and the birth of a mouse from a mountain ; since we are told of all these images, that they are very strongly impressed by the same form and termination of the verse.

We We may, however, without giving way to enthusiasm, admit that some beauties of this kind may be produced. A sudden stop at an unusual syllable may image the cessation of action, or the pause of discourse; and Milton has very happily imitated the repetitions of an echo;

I fled, and cried out death:
Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sigh'd
From all her caves, and back resounded death.

The measure of time in pronouncing may be varied so as very strongly to represent, not only the modes of external motion, but the quick or slow succession of ideas, and consequently the passions of the mind. This at least was the power of the spondaick and dactylick harmony, but our language can reach no eminent diversities of sound. We can indeed sometimes, by encumbering and retarding the line, show the difficulty of a progress made by strong efforts and with frequent interruptions, or mark a slow and heavy motion. Thus Milton has iinaged the toil of Satan struggling through chaos;

So he with difficulty and labour hard

Mov'd on: with difficulty and labour hethus he has described the leviathans or whales;

Wallowing unwieldy, enormous in their gait.

But he has at other times neglected such representations, as may be observed in the volubility and levity of these lines, which express an action tardy and reluctant :

[blocks in formation]

Descent and fall
To us is adverse. Who but felt of late
When the fierce foe hung on our broken rear
Insulting, and pursu'd us through the deep,
With what confusion and laborious flight

We sunk thus low? Th'ascent is easy then. In another place, he describes the gentle glide of ebbing waters in a line remarkably rough and halt

ing;

Tripping ebb; that stole
With soft foot tow'rds the deep who now had stopp'd
His sluices.

It is not, indeed, to be expected, that the sound should always assist the meaning, but it ought never i to counteract it; and therefore Milton has here

certainly committed a fault like that of the player, who looked on the earth when he implored the heayens, and to the heavens when he addressed the earth.

Those who are determined to find in Milton an assemblage of all the excellencies which have ennobled all other poets, will perhaps be offended that I do not celebrate his versification in higher terms; for there are readers who discover that in this passage,

So stretch'd out huge in length the arch fiend lay, a long form is described in a long line; but the truth is, that length of body is only mentioned in a slow line, to which it has only the resemblance of time to space, of an hour to a maypole.

The same turn of ingenuity might perform won: ders upon the description of the ark:

Then from the mountains hewing timber tall,
Began to build a vessel of huge bulk ;
Measur'd by cubit, length, and breadth, and height.

In these lines the poet apparently designs to fix the attention upon bulk; but this is effected by the enumeration, not by the measure; for what analogy can there be between modulations of sound, and corporeal dimensions ?

Milton indeed seems only to have regarded this species of embellishment so far as not to reject it when it came unsought; which would often happen to a mind so vigorous, employed upon a subject so various and extensive. He had, indeed, a greater and a nobler work to perform; a single sentiment of moral or religious truth, a single image of life or nature, would have been cheaply lost for a thousand echoes of the cadence to the sense; and he who had undertaken to vindicate the ways of God to man, might have been accused of neglecting his cause, had he lavished inuch of his attention upon syllables and sounds,

NUMB. 95. TUESDAY, February 12, 1751.

[blocks in formation]

TH

HERE are many diseases both of the body

and inind, which it is far easier to prevent than to cure, and therefore I hope you will think me employed in an office not useless either to learning or virtue, if I describe the symptoms of an intellectual malady, which, though at first it seizes only the passions, will, if not speedily remedied, infect the reason, and, from blasting the blossoms of knowledge, proceed in time to canker the root.

I was born in the house of discord. My parents were of unsuitable ages, contrary tempers, and different religions, and therefore employed the spirit and acuteness which nature had very liberally bestowed upon both, in hourly disputes, and incessant

contrivances

« AnteriorContinuar »